Off again today, and mum phoned. She is fantastic at helping me to keep going and we are so much closer now than we used to be. She agrees with me that it is hard to be off work.
So does my uncle, and his philosophy ‘guilt is proportional to commitment’ hits the mathematical note. There are jobs I’ve done where a day off feels better than a day on. Not this one; I love it. Maybe the sense of identity and self-worth it brings.
Perhaps dad feels guilty now. I doubt he will return to work as his mornings are not good and his nights are very difficult. I hadn’t thought of that before. I had always assumed that he deserves reflection time and to down tools for a bit. He has a lot to offer in new arenas. Maybe he feels less righteous about being off work than I had realised. And it may feel undignified to him to be without a professional role: he is as passionate about and committed to education as anyone I’ve met. This is one way of seeing it.
There’s another side to this. Yes, he is committed and loves education, but the role he has been asked to play in it recently is not what it should be. Perhaps there is no winning solution. It would be easy to feel negative if your health was bad and the future didn’t appeal. His negativity of late may not be the guilt-edge I have felt these two days. It goes deeper.
It is certainly true that dad needs a new focus. He has good days and bad days now. He needs the pressure to ease off, but he also needs a role to play. The house they bought now has a tenant, but there are still decisions to be made for financial security ahead. The inspecting may not continue, but there are things for him to do at church and people who want to be listened to. There are times when dad cannot take people talking to him. Some things are too much for him. This makes me feel very sad inside. My sister is travelling in NZ, enjoying new experiences and the advantages of being in her twenties. I hear more from her some weeks than I do from dad, who has the disadvantages of not being capable to take on new and various things. It all needs to be simple now.
When I was a child I thought about my parents getting older, and about their health. In my simple understanding I decided that they would be healthy until such a time as my own children could grow up and get to know them and share great times with them. There would be no crying or pain. What I was doing was distancing myself from the physical world and creating a better future, because young people like to do that. Maybe Heaven is like that, but Earth isn’t. Even locally we have murder, avian flu, global warming, crime. Now I am an adult I have to watch others and create a future which may not always be ‘better’ but can certainly be ‘good’. Of course, there is also plenty of past, much of which is good to reflect on. The very nature which drives my sister to travel, try new things and push personal limits drove my dad in the sixties to train to teach in Africa. It drove him to be a fantastic teacher in a number of schools across the country, including being a head of department and taking on a vast number of other roles in schools and communities. It drove him to have high expectations of his children. It drove him to do a doctorate, to work in universities, to become a school inspector. It made him one of the best inspectors they had.
I never allowed for my dad to lose that drive for life in all its fullness. Maybe he still has it, but he is no longer in the driving seat. Maybe he is living at walking speed.
When I studied theology we talked about the Jewish understanding of halakah – the walk. To live is to walk. You live at walking pace. We forget that today in our e-commerce, i-choice, life@speed. Jesus would have walked most places (making the entrance to Jerusalem on a donkey the more loaded, perhaps). When you walk you see life at a personal speed. There is time to take things in. To speak with and listen to people walking with you. To feel the muscles in your legs and the air in your lungs. To enjoy being and moving on.
Dad walks now. And maybe it is OK to travel, to drive, to live a high-tech race for a while. But maybe we weren’t created to run our whole lives.